I have been on the internet since 1996. Back then, there was no possibility to download music. You could at best stream music with Real Audio. At modem speeds of 14.4 kbps and 28.8 kbps, that meant (14400/8 = 1800 / 1024 = 1.75 KB/s or 3.51 KB/s which translated to a 3 MB music file would have taken a good 15 minutes to download with the faster 28.8 modems. So basically that time I used to copy music from multimedia or game CDs and play them on my 486… until I discovered the world of music trackers !

Music trackers were programs that talented demo-scene musicians used to create music. These music files would be around 100-700 KB and could play for around 3-8 minutes. The beauty of these files was that not only they were much smaller than .ra (Real Audio) files, but also they would have sounded better than the down-sampled real audio files and you did not need a fast computer to play them. The most famous tracker program of the time was Fast Tracker 2, which had its own .xm format. Another tracker filetype was S3m which represented ScreamTracker 3. Fast Tracker was a great program because you could run it from DOS, it could open lots of different filetypes and you could manipulate the music files in a lot of ways: change their tempo, replace sound bits and so on. Tracker files were made by sampling different instruments at different sampling rates, then combining them by looping and playing different samples, up to 32 simultaneously to create a rich, full music experience.

The beauty of this music was that it was free, and the musicians were talented and made great music. However, with the increase in speed of internet we saw the demise of tracker music.

Then I stumbled across the latest technology: mpeg layer 3 (mp3). Back in 1997 mp3’s were still widely unknown and you could not find any mp3 download sites. I had an AMD 486, which although was supposedly a DX 133 MHz, it was slower than a Pentium 60 MHz. The 60 MHz was the magic number, as it was possible to play mp3s in stereo in Windows 95. On my 486 the music would stutter unless I changed the sampling rate or played it on mono (one channel instead of two). Then I discovered Damp, a DOS mp3 player which was so well written that I could play stereo high sample mp3s on my 486 without any stutter.

I remember “borrowing” music CDs from the restaurant I was working as a waiter back in 1997-99 and using WinDAC ripped (copied) audio CDs to my 486 computer. I then would use a windows program called “Fraunhoffer Mp3 Encoder” to encode 3 or 4 tracks into mp3 per night. I would leave the computer on for 8-9 hours and sometimes it would still be encoding when I came home at 2 AM ! Back then, I had a 33.6 modem and would be trading mp3s on IRC channels such as #mp3warez. It was a hit and miss thing because you had to go to multiple IRC channels on each server (ie: Undernet, EfNet, FidoNet and so on) and beg people to send you their files. Sometimes you had to set up an exchange, so you would give your list of mp3s and she/he would choose one. You then had to send your file to her/him for anything from 15 minutes to a couple of hours before you could even have the option of downloading it from her/him.

With CDs becoming more popular, less expensive and gaining popularities of mp3s, around 2000 to 2005 I was mainly getting my mp3s by trading with friends and their friends. I would take my CDs to their house and after copying what they wanted, I would make a selection of mp3’s and burn them to one or more CDs. As for downloading, I ditched IRC for BearShare, LimeWire, WinMX, eDonkey, eMule and then DC++ before moving to BitTorrent. Torrents do not make sense if you want to search for files. Whereas you can search for specific files on any of the above filesharing apps. DC++ has the advantage of being able to download the files list of any user and browsing through their list. You could discover new music especially if the person specializes in a specific music type, such as Techno or Rock.

Back in 2006-7 I discovered I could download mp3s right off google by searching for specific filetypes. With the string (“Music Name or Album Name” “Index of” filetype:mp3), this however no longer works and you have to be more creative to search for mp3s via google. You could search using the string: (“MusicName” intitle:index.of mp3 -html -htm -php -asp -txt -pls) or (“parent directory” mp3 OR wma OR ogg OR wav “MusicName” -html -htm -download -links).

Then there are the websites which act as mp3 search engines, one of the best websites is beeMp3. Here users voluntarily add their own mp3s which are normally hidden from google’s spiders. The website uses simple 3 letter captcha to authenticate real users from download bots, and the variety is very good.

Then there are the websites and programs which offer streaming mp3s. Last.fm, Pandora, GrooveShark and Spotify are some of the most famous ones. Since Pandora is no longer available outside US (what happened to free speech ? If they want to offer content according to country, where does it stop ?) I am not going to cover it here. GrooveShark offers great music experience: you simply search for music and add to your playlist; it plays right off your web browser. Most of the music files on Grooveshark are of high bitrate (192 Kbps or higher). There is however one small problem with GrooveShark: buffering is slow and seldom it times out. Spotify is very popular in Europe. It is a Swedish program that offers streaming music with advertisements every 3-4 songs. Back in 2008 when I learned about Spotify there was two ways you could access it: either pay for it 100 sek per month, or use an “invitation code” to get free user access and listen to music with advertisements. Every paying user got 2 invitation codes. So I was without Spotify account until I found out several websites that offered free invitation codes. These codes were given out to the public, one invitation per IP. This I used to make usernames for myself, my family and friends. Then it became impossible to find any invitation codes, however users in UK and France could create users without any invitation code. This was unfair to users in other parts of EU. So I found out it was possible to access spotify’s website via France or UK proxy servers, create users giving a fake French or British post code, then logging off and logging in without the proxy and changing the location to match your own location. This was 2009 and I was offering everyone Spotify accounts 🙂

This was all until early 2010 where Spotify offered everyone ability to create usernames, although now you are only limited to 20 hours of free music per month, and no radio mode. Fortunately old users still have the ability to listen to unlimited amount of music per month plus they have the radio mode. Today Spotify runs on multiple platforms: Windows, Mac and mobile. There are also two price options, one for just listening on computer and one for playing on your mobile phone. However it still means that you are bound to their proprietary program to be able to access music.

For me, downloading pure mp3 is desirable. You can play it on any system, and in 10 years time when all today’s programs are obsolete, you know that you will still have programs that are backwards compatible with it. There is no security layer, so you will be able to listen to your mp3 without any authentication, and the quality is relatively high (up to 320 kbps). The next format is OGG. It is an open format available for a few years which offers better sound quality than mp3 at same bitrate. However unfortunately even today it is not supported natively by Windows Media Player. Most games encode their music and audio to OGG. There are no licensing they have to worry about and the higher sound quality means the games sound better than before.

For me, it is important to have my music on my computer. Sure I may have online lists and will today listen to most of my music through Spotify, however it should not mean that I should completely rely on Spotify. I do not want to put all my eggs in one basket, so I do not want to completely rely on one program. Experience has shown that companies go down under, or merge and services become unavailable. I want to be able to take my music with me without being connected to fast GPRS. I want to sit in a plane and listen to music on my mobile phone. I want to download. I want to have it offline, not that I have been offline much for the past 3 years.

This means that I will never buy music on iTunes. I do not like iPod anyway. Its stupid that you buy an iPod, then you have to “install” a 70 MB program that its sole job is to transfer files to your supposedly mp3 player. iPod is not an mp3 player. Or at least it did not used to be. When I worked with it a few times, I noticed a few major flaws:

  • You had to create a playlist and synchronize the music with your iPod
  • You could not just copy mp3s to your iPod and play, you had to convert them via iTunes
  • You go to a friend’s house and want to share one of your songs, the song names have been converted to random characters and finding the specific song becomes almost impossible. You now have to use iPod ripper program to transfer YOUR OWN music back to your or someone else’s computer
  • Say you go to a friend who has some music on his computer, you synchronize your iPod so you could take his music on your iPod too, result: you will lose all your mp3s and have the new mp3 playlist on your iPod ! Imagine you have 30 GB mp3s and you synchronize for 100 MB of mp3s, you will LOSE all that 30 GB and keep his 100 MB. You come home and synchronise back, losing his 100 MB and copying your own 30 GB back, if you still have it !

I believe playing mp3s should be easy: copy to your player and play. Just like Creative or Nokia have been doing for the past few years. Why should I have to convert my mp3s to m4a, wma or any other inferior file format which could jeopardize the “playability” of that file a few years into the future ? Remember VQF format anyone ? It was supposedly better quality than mp3, but you can now only play it via VLC. No, thank you.

Next post, I will explain the current methods of mp3 download. This turned out to be a long post ! 1828 words 😛